As each year passes we embrace colors in new and transformative ways. The significance of colors throughout history has continuously evolved, whether it is a color’s connotation with a season or state of mind. And although the significance of each color is forever-changing, the evolution of Fashion carries deep roots in the history of colors.
Here is the History of Colors in Fashion
First, let us take a look into the symbolic meanings that both history and psychology has bestowed upon some of the most popular colors.
It was the Mexican Aztecs that introduced this color into the world. The aztecs taught the Spanish how to make red dye by crushing insects, which they called cochineals. Each shade of red projects different connotations. From the very beginning, deep red has been considered bold and sultry. While pale red, what we today consider pink, offers a more gentle appearance. In the United States, pink has become associated with girls. However, before the 1920’s it was considered a boy’s color.
In ancient Rome, yellow was celebrated as the most popular choice for weddings. Today, yellow is known for it’s both cheery and cautious references. We know the color today to be a cheerful and vibrant choice in fashion. However, yellow is also the preferred color choice worn for public service uniforms for decades.
Did you know that blue is considered to be the most common color? Perhaps it is because denim is blue and jeans are one of the most worn piece in fashion apparel. Psychologists have also attributed the color to offering calming and soothing affects to the human psyche. Professional fashion consultants recommend wearing blue to job interviews, because it symbolizes loyalty and commitment. It is often believe that for this same reason, U.S. police officers traditionally wear blue.
The popularity of the color green originated with the brides in Europe during the Middle Ages. The brides would wear green to symbolize fertility. Today, the color still carries a strong relation to nature and serenity.
For decades black has been regarded as a color of both sophistication and a choice shade in serious occasions. For example in the Western hemisphere, we know black as a traditional option for both funeral attire and sophisticated evening wear.
The color white is most associated with brides in today’s society. This began in the 20th century with Western brides who wore the color to symbolize purity. However, this color is not celebrated globally. In China, white is the color of mourning.
Purple was considered an exclusive color available for only royalty, because of the shade’s difficulty in being created. History shares that Cleopatra needed 20,000 snails soaked for ten days to obtain one ounce of purple dye for her royal clothing. In fact, Emperor Aurelian refused to let his wife buy a purple-dyed silk garment in 273 CE, because the cost was literally its weight in gold.
Pictured above: The Murex Snail
Here is the History of Colors in Fashion continued…
Color has always been closely related to cultural traditions and social classes. In ancient Egypt, the people would create glass ointment jars were with deep blue cobalt and white patterns. Hundreds of years ago in Greece, workers made monuments and painted each in vivid and brights colors. As mentioned earlier, since it’s inception, purple was always the color considered in the highest regard because of it’s rarity and expense. But because fashion is an art of evolution and imitation, there came a time when the mixture of red and blue dyes made a new, more affordable purple. This was a positive outcome because the Murex, the snail used to create the original purple dye, had been harvested to near extinction. However, it was not before long that this so-called “knock-off” version of purple began to plague fashion. In the late 4th century Emperor Theodosium of Byzantium issued a decree forbidding the use of purple except by the Imperial family. Death was the result of breaking the edict.
Color has had such a significance in the deep roots of our fashion and cultural history that it was featured in the Sumptuary Laws. These laws were legislated throughout many centuries and in numerous countries, requiring people to dress in certain colors that represented different statuses in society. In Elizabethan England, these laws attempted to restrict the sumptuousness of dress in order to curb extravagance, protect fortunes and to make clear the necessary and appropriate distinctions between levels of society. However, each time these laws were enacted, they would fall through, as it was impossible to dictate such an extreme law.
The failure of this system didn’t stop those in power from attempting to monopolize particular colors. During his reign, King Henry VIII insisted on being the only person in the country to be permitted to wear purple. Other times, it was simply the cost of the colored dye that would immediately create a social gap amongst who could wear them.
Up until the mid-19th century, bright colors were preserved for the wealthy, as these colors were the most expensive on the market. Although the people would indulge in these dyes, the colors were so saturated and unstable that they often faded or discolored quickly. It was not until the development of chemical dyes that these brighter shades became more resistant and also less expensive, that people of any class began to clothe themselves in them. However, in most cases, this would cause the upper classes to choose more subdued and calmer shades of color as a form of snobbish protest.
Now let’s fast forward to the 20th century and beyond. Fashion designers have taken to instilling a particular “on-trend” color with every seasonal collection. The French have long had a passion for colors, making them fashionable one season and unfashionable the next. The global fashion industry has since followed. The reason behind this? This was conceived as a way to ensure that shoppers, particularly women, continued to make purchases rather than rely on last season’s clothes.
Colors became associated with just how fashionable a woman was. It was not long before household fashion brands became strictly associated with a certain color. Chanel promoted the little black dress in the 1920s, Schiaparelli influenced and launched bright, hot pink in the late 1930s, the black and brown combination was mastered by Balenciaga in the 1950s and Emilio Pucci introduced bright and color mixing patterns in the 1960s.
Here is the History of Colors in Fashion continued…
Present day fashion and other leading commercial industries, rely on the Pantone Color Institute to deliver the forecast of color trends each year. The institute, founded in 1962, describes itself as helping companies “make the most informed decisions about color for their brands or products.”
In 1956, Lawrence Herbert joined the Pantone and he quickly began noticing how difficult it was for designers, ad agencies, and printers to exchange exact shades of color. The many types of color hues such as red-based purples and blue-based purples, warm and cool shades, lighter and darker tones, would get lost in translation and mistakes would commonly occur. Herbert knew there had to be a better way to match exact color shades across the spectrum of communication.
Lawrence Herbert bought Pantone in 1962 and launched the first PMS guide in 1963 with 10 colors in an effort to reduce the number of variables happening during the printing process. He created an objective, numeric language that would allow any printer, anywhere in the world to accurately produce a color. Pantone started as a simple, yet revolutionary graphic standards system for professional designers. However, today it has transformed into a global design force.
Here is Pantone Color Institute’s Spring 2017 Color Forecast:
Today, Pantone has a special hand in the fashion industry as it releases it’s “Pantone Color of The Year“. This annual project is done secretively to stimulate buzz and excitement each year, especially because the color chosen each year is in relevance with current events and culture. To brainstorm and release the Color of The Year, Pantone reads the cultural pulse and picks the color based on that.
“For us, it was coming up with a way to communicate what’s taking place in our language,” Pantone’s VP Laurie Pressman says. “It’s our way of chiming in. We speak a language of color. So we see things in color. We can explain things in color.”
Pantone launched Color of the Year initiative in 2000. “It was an exciting time, but it was a scary time,” Pressman says. “You had Y2K, dot-coms bursting, you had all this information about people wanting more substance to their lives. It was about coming up with an answer to the excitement, an answer to the fear, and using color to do that.”
Wondering what Pantone’s 2017 Color of the Year is?